Apple Picking in Madison VA!

Fall in Virginia means it’s time to enjoy the changing colors and pick apples! As a lifelong Virginia resident, I may be biased, but I think Virginia has THE BEST apple picking in the country. My favorite place to pick apples, eat apple treats, ride on a hayride and enjoy the fall weather is Graves Mountain Lodge in Madison. Each weekend through October 20, visitors can ride on a hayride, make their way through the hay bale maze, choose your own apple varieties and fill a bushel box and taste delicious funnel cakes topped with Graves Mountain’s own apple preserves and powdered sugar.

We started our day with lunch at The Bavarian Chef, an authentic German restaurant on Route 29 just south of the town of Madison. They had their Oktoberfest special menu, but we went with a mix of appetizers, the sausage sampler, a kid’s meal and a chicken entree. They have beer flights as well.

After lunch, we headed up Route 29, through the town of Madison and onto Route 231 towards Syria. Graves Mountain Lodge is located a few miles northwest of the town of Madison. The lodge itself is built into the side of the mountain, but the festival area is in a valley, so there are no winding, mountain roads to navigate. Parking is free and right across the road from the festival area.

There are plenty of local craft vendors, a coffee roaster and food from Graves Mountain Lodge itself, including hot dogs and lunch items and plenty of delicious desserts featuring apples and apple preserves. Clogging and musicians set the tone for the gorgeous backdrop of fall colors.

On the way home, we paid a visit to Hebron Lutheran Church, the oldest continually-operating Lutheran church in the country and the church home of some of our ancestors, who were members of the Germanna colony of colonial-era German immigrants to the area. The platforms surrounding the circa 1740’s church building were used to dismount from horses or disembark from carriages.

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If you’re planning a visit to pick apples at Graves Mountain, there are plenty of wineries, breweries and restaurants to check out nearby. Here are just a few:

Fun day exploring Los Angeles

This summer we took an epic family vacation to California. We rented a condo in Anaheim for a week through VRBO.com and spent our time visiting Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, discovering the Los Angeles Angels stadium nearby and seeing a game, and exploring the Los Angeles area.

One one of our “L.A.” days, we visited a few classic Los Angeles spots:

L.A. City Hall – This Art Deco building dating to 1928 offers gorgeous and FREE views of the entire city from its 27th floor observation deck. We saw the Hollywood Sign off in the distance and got to take in a bird’s eye view of the city.

Angel’s Flight – A Los Angeles landmark since 1901, this funicular railway used to ferry commuters downhill from Bunker Hill to their jobs in downtown L.A. It’s a $1.00 fare each way, and the trip only takes a few minutes, but it’s such a piece of history that you just have to hop on!

The Last Bookstore – This unique bookseller offers new and used books and a second-floor gallery space for local artists. The aisles are labyrinthine and full of quirky, book-related art. The vintage book filled bank vault was my favorite spot – I grabbed a vintage cookbook!

The Bradbury Building – A filming location for the original “Blade Runner” movie, this office building opened in 1893. It’s free to visit, but access is only available to the ground floor.

Griffith Observatory – Perched high atop the Hollywood Hills, this astronomical observatory is free to visit and offers exhibits, such as pieces of meteors and a scale model of the moon. Great views of the city are an added bonus!

Forest Lawn Cemetery – A visit to pay respects to some of our favorite musicians and entertainers was a must. At this beautiful cemetery in the Hollywood Hills, we viewed the graves of Stan Laurel, Nipsey Hussle, Bette Davis, Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy Kilmister, Debbie Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, Lou Rawls and Paul Walker.

We packed a lot into the day, but we’re all glad we got to see so much. We were in Southern California for a week, but I feel like we could have stayed the whole summer and still not seen everything we wanted to. I’ll put everything we missed on the agenda for next time!

 

A Visit to Mayberry

After hearing my late grandmother’s stories about her father’s birth and family in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, I’ve wanted to visit this place where a branch of my family lived during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. As luck would have it, this year my son’s Boy Scout troop decided to attend a summer camp nearby, so my mom and I and my other two kids made the four-hour trek from Richmond to spend the weekend in the town made famous by the Andy Griffith Show as Mayberry.

Mt. Airy is just across the North Carolina line from Virginia, and lies near the old wagon road that brought settlers, many of them German, from Pennsylvania into the wilderness of Virginia. After a bunch of research on Ancestry.com, I’ve been able to trace some of my Mt. Airy ancestors to this path – arriving in Pennsylvania from Germany in the late 1700’s and coming down the wagon road to Mt. Airy.

The town is small and charming and lies between Wytheville, Virginia and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It has a quaint Main Street with antique shops, restaurants and tourist attractions from the Andy Griffith Show.

We visited the Mt. Airy Regional History Museum to get an overview of the town’s history and to see where “our people” fit in. The museum is housed on the site of a former saloon and later hardware store (which we found out the next night on the Mt. Airy Ghost Tour was haunted by the former manager of the hardware store).

There was a classic car and hot rod cruise-in, with old cars lined up on Main Street, and we walked around and got ice cream at Hillbilly Ice & Creamery.

More to come…

 

Exploring Nashville’s Abandoned Baseball Stadium

The Nashville Sounds, the triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, moved into Herschel Greer Stadium on the grounds of Nashville’s Fort Negley in 1978. Conway Twitty threw out the first pitch, and the hometown team beat the Savannah Braves 12-4. The stadium hosted the team through the 2014 season, when the team ended its run there and moved across town to the brand new First Tennessee Park.

Herschel Greer Stadium was closed while the city of Nashville decided what was to be done with it. Once the team’s administrative offices had moved, the site was left abandoned and nature and local graffiti artists took over. Many different plans were proposed, from a soccer stadium to a Kroger grocery store to rodeo grounds. In the end, the city decided to demolish the existing park to make way for ” mixed-use development with green space and affordable housing.” Demolition began on April 1, 2019, but my husband and I visited Nashville in late March and had the opportunity to explore the stadium and document what was left of this former baseball mecca.

 

Visiting the Jack Daniel’s Distillery

Lynchburg, Tennessee is an easy hour and a half drive from Nashville that makes for a fun day trip with plenty to see and do. The Jack Daniel’s Distillery offers a number of different tours, most concluding with a tasting. We took the “Flight of Jack” tour, which led us through the distilling, charcoal filtering, aging and bottling operations.

We were lucky enough to see Tennessee sugar maple being burned to make the charcoal that’s used to filter Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. This extra step is what makes Tennessee whiskey different from bourbon. We also saw the spring where Jack Daniel’s sources the water it uses to distill its whiskey.

At the end of the tour, we sampled several Jack Daniel’s products before heading to Miss Mary Bobo’s restaurant for lunch. This unique dining experience takes place in a former boarding house where food is served family style. Every item was delicious, from the fried okra, cornbread and meatloaf to the cheese grits casserole, fried chicken and Jack Daniel’s whiskey-soaked baked apples. A dessert of coffee and pecan pie topped with whiskey-infused whipped cream topped off one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Both Miss Mary Bobo’s and Lynchburg’s town square filled with shops are within walking distance across a short foot-bridge from the distillery.

If you’ll be visiting, be sure to pre-book your distillery tour and lunch, as lunch and the more popular distillery tours routinely sell out.

New York Comic Con Trip Win

If you’ve read some of my posts about how I enter and win contests and sweepstakes, you’ve seen some of my trip wins. Being a “sweeper” as a hobby is definitely full of adventure, especially when winning involves my favorite thing: travel!

Recently I was notified that I was one of the lucky winners of the Lipton Brisk New York Comic Con sweepstakes. The prize was a three-night trip to New York to attend Comic Con, including flights, hotel, ground transportation, Comic Con tickets, some spending money and a gift bag. If you’re not familiar with a comic convention, or comic con, this is typically a multi-day event where various comic book authors and artists and other vendors come together to celebrate fandom of all types. San Diego Comic Con is the largest in the U.S., but New York’s annual event takes a close second. Expanding from its original focus on comics, NYCC offered panels from actors, actresses, writers, showrunners, authors and other people involved with some of the hottest movies, tv shows and books.

Over three days and a handful of different venues, my husband and I got to take in panels on some of our favorite shows and even see the first episodes from new seasons for some. We also visited the show floor, where there were plenty of vendors and interesting experiences, plus attendees dressed in their cosplay best. From independent artists creating graphic novels and comics, to hand-painted items to fragrance oils and vintage deadstock music memorabilia, there was plenty of shopping. NYCC was definitely an experience – it was crowded, but totally fun!

 

 

Family History Travel in Wytheville, Virginia

I caught the genealogy bug more than ten years ago, and as soon as I heard about Ancestry.com, I knew I wanted to create an account, upload the genealogy information I had and explore more about our family’s history. Over the years, I’ve discovered so many interesting stories about my ancestors and have learned that most of my family came to America in the 1600’s and early 1700’s, including some who arrived as early as 1619.

My maternal grandfather’s family, the Crowder’s, originally arrived in Virginia in the early 1600’s. After slowly migrating from Charles City County to Mecklenburg County, my grandfather’s great-grandfather and his family settled in Wytheville in the early 1800’s. As we learned from exploring census records, he partnered with his next-door neighbor to run a tailor and shoemaking shop. Today, the original building that housed his shop still stands and is a boutique and gift shop called The Farmer’s Daughter.

I had determined the location of several of my ancestors’ graves in a couple of Wytheville cemeteries, so we visited the cemeteries and located them.

On the Saturday we were in Wytheville, we decided to search for the site of a terrible event that happened to several of my ancestors, an Indian massacre. On our way, we went up Big Walker Mountain and visited the Big Walker Lookout and Store. For a small fee, we were able to walk across a suspension bridge to view an overlook, then climb to the top of a more than one hundred foot tall former fire tower. We also got to speak with a local author, Joe Tennis, who has written a number of books on the area, including books on hauntings.

 

We came down on the other side of the mountain near Sharon Springs and Ceres, locations mentioned in accounts of the Indian massacre that killed several of my ancestors. In the summer of 1774, my sixth great-grandfather, Jared Sluss, was working the land near his home. His wife, Christina, had just put their newborn baby, Mary, into a cradle and pushed it beneath a tall bed so the flies wouldn’t bother her. Ever since the European settlers had pushed into the region, various native tribes had taken exception to the treaties in place between the settlers and natives, and had carried out occasional massacres of area settlers.

On that morning in 1774, Jared Sluss had heard his neighbors warnings that marauding bands of Indians had been seen in the area. Needing to harvest his crops and work his fields, and not necessarily believing the rumors, he and his sons continued their work and didn’t even notice when a band of Shawnee or Cherokee Indians worked their way down the mountain and between Jared in the field and Christina in the house. Father and mother were both killed, as were all the children except two daughters who were in town at the time, one son who escaped the massacre to get help in the village and the baby daughter in her cradle, who was not discovered by the natives. This story is memorialized with a marker at the Lutheran church at Sharon Springs, and the graves are marked with stones from which the engravings have long since weathered away.

We also visited the Wytheville Farmer’s Market and had lunch at the Log House 1776 restaurant, both in downtown Wytheville. According to Mr. Tennis’ book on hauntings, the Log House 1776 is haunted, but it was also a great lunch spot with yummy sandwiches and a kids’ menu. For dinner, we enjoyed El Puerto Mexican restaurant. According to locals, this was the best Mexican place in town, and it did not disappoint.

We stayed at the Ramada Wytheville, which was a great choice for families. It had an outdoor pool and a delicious breakfast buffet, with affordable, clean rooms and a great staff. This was a great summer weekend getaway to explore our family history!

 

Beach Adventure

For a fun, off-the-beaten-path adventure, my husband and I reserved a night at False Cape State Park, Virginia’s southernmost state park. This rustic park offers primitive camping on a deserted, remote beach or inland. False Cape is on the southern edge of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and you have to hike or bike the 3.5 miles through the Refuge to get into the park. Campers need to bring in water as there is only potable water at the Visitor’s Center. You should also be aware of the various types of wildlife, including venomous snakes. Cottonmouths (also known as water moccasins) are abundant – we saw five on our hikes into and out of the park.

To get to our beachfront campsite, our full hike was about 7 miles each way. Despite the hazards and long hike, the experience of being the only ones camping on a deserted beach and watching the full moon rise from the ocean was truly unique.

Within the park, there are various hiking trails, including ones to a beachside shipwreck and an abandoned church from a small community that used to live on the land prior to the establishment of the park. There are also tram tours that depart from the Visitor’s Center of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge if you’d rather just visit the park for the day. It’s just south of Sandbridge and miles away from the hustle and bustle of Virginia Beach.

The Spa Life in Baden-Baden, Germany

On the edge of the Black Forest just across the French border from Alsace, the spa town of Baden-Baden is a relaxing stop on a European road trip. My husband and I were headed to the tiny town of Ingolstadt to stay for a few days and visit the Audi Factory there, and we had pre-booked our spa treatments at the historic Friedrichsbad Spa, which dates from 1877 and offers a wide range of treatments, including the traditional 17-step circuit of showers, brushes and massages, baths of various temperatures and steam baths. Be sure to leave your modesty at the door, as the Friedrichsbad Spa, like many in Europe, requires full nudity. Men and women are separate for the treatments on certain days of the week, and can enjoy treatments together on other days. Check the Carasana website for a full schedule.

Since we only had a brief amount of time before getting back on the road, we didn’t do the full 17-step circuit. Instead, we each got a massage and shared a soak in the Emperor’s Bath. The massages were just what our road-tripping, tight muscles needed after sitting in a car most of each day. We got big, fluffy robes to wear between the massage area and the Emperor’s Bath, and we put our bags into a locker before entering the private room with a deep, soaking tub full of warm mineral water. Beneath a plaque of Kaiser Wilhelm, we soaked in the relaxing water, enjoying fruit juice, German wine and mineral water and some German-language magazines.

In the same historic bath area, you can also visit the Roman bath ruins, which lie beneath the main spa. Guided tours are available on some days, and self-guided tours on the remaining days. Just steps away is the newer Caracalla Spa, a large, modern European spa with outdoor and indoor pools and numerous wellness programs and treatments. From massages and body wraps to facials, couples massages and more, there are plenty of ways to treat yourself. Parking is available in an underground deck that connects to the Caracalla Spa. From there, the Friedrichsbad Spa is a short walk away.

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Summer Fun

School’s out and it’s time to explore. Living in Virginia, we’re lucky to have plenty to do in our home state – from beaches to mountains and from historic sites to theme parks to national parks. We also have Washington, DC on our doorstep, opening the door to plenty of cultural offerings. Want to do something this summer and need some ideas? Try these:

  • Napoleon: Power and Splendor exhibition, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond – This unique exhibition takes you inside the world of Napoleonic Europe, showing artifacts from Napoleon’s own daily life, as well as commissioned pieces and propaganda that helped legitimize his empire. Through Sept. 3.
  • “Body Worlds: Animals Inside and Out,” Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond – This Richmond museum offers a great day out for families. The animal exhibit teaches kids and adults alike about the biology of animals through plastination, a process that preserves blood vessels, muscular systems and more. Through Aug. 19.
  • Astronomy and Night Sky Summer Series, Chincoteague National Wildlife Reserve/NASA’s Wallop’s Island Flight Facility, Chincoteague – Space lovers can explore the night sky at this evening lecture series that begins inside and concludes outdoors with telescope viewing of the night sky. July 13.
  • Tank Museum Vehicle Run Day, American Armoured Foundation Inc. Tank and Ordnance War Memorial Museum, Danville – One one special day this summer, this military museum fires up the engines of its tanks and runs them. Inside the museum itself, a wide variety of exhibits, such as “Black Panthers, African-American Tankers of WWII” and “Elvis – His Military Years” will please any military enthusiast. July 14.
  • “Wings and Wheels,” Ingalls Field, Hot Springs – Head out to Virginia’s western highlands to take in this event packed with cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles and airplanes. A vintage car show, air shows, rides and plenty of family fun await. July 14.